RICHMOND, CA: City Council Votes to Adopt Resolution Calling for Constitutional Amendment to End Corporate Personhood

March 2, 2011
Christopher Connelly

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Councilmember Jovanka Beckles proposed a resolution to urge the federal government to pass a constitutional amendment limiting the role of corporations in elections. It was passed unanimously.

RICHMOND - In a long meeting Tuesday night during which Richmond’s City Council noticeably voted in lock step, the council took on a number of issues including the rights of corporations in a democracy, whether or not to allow chain restaurants in Point Richmond, Chevron’s once-rejected Renewal Project and the purchase of new air quality meters to be deployed near the Point Richmond wastewater treatment plant.

After voting last month to approve a moratorium on chain restaurants in Point Richmond, city councilmembers voted 5-0 last night to deny a permit to open a Subway restaurant in Point Richmond, saying that it was not compatible with the quaint and historic nature of the neighborhood, which is protected in the city’s General Plan.

The application was appealed to City Council after the planning commission was split evenly on Manoj Tripathi’s application for a conditional use permit to open a Subway franchise at 217 Tewksbury Avenue.

Tripathi, who owns 36 other Subway restaurants, three of which are in Richmond, argued that the planning commission members abused their position and that one member should not have voted because he was active with the neighborhood council and thus had a conflict of interest.  He said that racism and elitism were behind the deadlock.

“I would like to ask City Council to tell the people why I am good enough to open jobs in the Iron Triangle,” Tripathi said of his other approved locations, “but I am not good enough to open up jobs in Point Richmond.”

Councilmember Jeff Ritterman denied that elitism was at the root of the decision.  “The reason you are being denied is an issue of compatibility,” he said.

Later in the evening, the council turned its focus from the issues facing one neighborhood to the national stage, and adopted a resolution “to free democracy from corporate control.”

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who proposed the resolution, said the bill called for state and federal constitutional amendments to reject corporate personhood—that is,  the idea that corporations deserve the same rights and protections afforded individuals in the constitution—and corporations’ ability to spend freely in elections.  McLaughlin said that the resolution opposes the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Committee, which removed corporate campaign spending limits on independent political broadcasts and shielded contributors to those committees from public record.

The resolution is symbolic, and has no legal weight, but calls for letters to be sent urging state and federal representatives to propose legislation to change the Constitution to limit corporate rights.   It was modeled on a resolution adopted by Berkeley, and similar resolutions have been adopted or are under debate in city councils around the Bay Area.

During public comments, Don Gosney argued that City Council was overstepping its reach by commenting on federal issues and should use its time and resources to deal with local issues.  He alleged that limiting the freedom of corporations would also limit the rights of non-profits like the Sierra Club.

In a short but fierce back and forth, Councilmember Jim Rogers responded that the issue was local because the effects of corporate money were felt in last fall’s election in Richmond, noting that Chevron and companies on both sides of the casino issue spent millions to “drown out the other side with their larger megaphones.”

Gosney was heckled, and half a dozen speakers that followed him, including Councilmembers Rogers and Ritterman, rejected his arguments.

The six present councilmembers adopted the resolution unanimously, with Nat Bates absent from the proceedings.  Councilmember Jovanka Beckles, who co-sponsored the resolution, said, “I’m really proud that we here in Richmond are taking a stand against this.”

Click here for the text of Berkeley's resolution, which is the same one that Richmond just passed.

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